19 May 2003, Volume 4, Number 17
REGIONALU.S. SENATE RATIFIES NATO ENLARGEMENT PROTOCOLS.
U.S. senators voted 96 to zero on 8 May to ratify the protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty previously signed by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, international news agencies reported. The United States thus became the third of NATO's 19 member nations, after Canada and Norway, to formally approve the alliance's further expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. Legislative approval is required in all current member states before the bloc can expand, which is expected at a NATO summit in mid-2004. "These nations will make NATO stronger, and we need that strength for all the work that lies ahead," U.S. President George W. Bush said in an appeal the same day to other allies to approve the enlargement, according to "The New York Times." NATO last added new members in 1999 -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Meeting with the foreign ministers of the seven candidate states in Washington the same day, Bush said these countries have "a fresh memory of tyranny." "And they know the consequences of complacency in the face of danger," he said, according to dpa.
BALTIC, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN VILNIUS.
Foreign Ministers Antanas Valionis (Lithuania), Sandra Kalniete (Latvia), Kristina Ojuland (Estonia), and Joschka Fischer (Germany) gathered in Vilnius on 6 May for their seventh annual meeting and discussed the EU Convention on the Future of Europe, EU-Russian relations, and the EU's "New Neighbors" initiative, ELTA reported. At a subsequent press conference, Fischer said this meeting differed from previous ones in that "our meeting today was like a talk among family members," as the division between EU members and applicant states no longer exists. Fischer also held separate meetings with President Rolandas Paksas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas during which he affirmed that Germany's parliament will soon ratify Lithuania's treaties of accession to NATO and the EU. Fischer also said the EU's transportation, energy, and communications networks will be joined with the infrastructures of its future members.
BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS PARTICIPATION IN NATO'S CORPS NORTHEAST.
Defense Ministers Margus Hanson (Estonia), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania) met with their Danish, German, and Polish counterparts in Copenhagen on 8 May, BNS reported. The latter three were in the Danish capital for a session of NATO's Multinational Corps Northeast, which was formed by Danish, German, and Polish units in 1999. The Baltic defense ministers have previously participated in parts of earlier sessions of the corps and, in September 2002, Baltic liaison officers began serving at the corps' headquarters in Szczecin, Poland. The six ministers signed a joint document stating their intention to reduce the number of army conscripts in their countries, but noted that this is hindered by a lack of funds. They also decided that the name of the corps will be changed to the Baltic Corps after the Baltic states join NATO in May 2004 and that their forces will become an integral part of the corps.
* Baltic Defense Ministers Margus Hanson (Estonia), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania) attended the NATO-Ukraine Conference in Washington on 4 and 5 May, BNS reported. In talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld they discussed the possibility of sending a joint Baltic peacekeeping mission to Iraq.
* Armed forces commanders Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts (Estonia), Admiral Gaidis Zeibots (Latvia), and Major General Jonas Kronkaitis (Lithuania) visited the naval air stations at Corpus Christi and Ingleside, Texas on 5 May, BNS reported. They also toured the American minesweepers "Kingfisher" and "Avenger." On 7 May, the commanders met with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, the organizer of their trip, and laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, where the flags of the three countries were hoisted for the first time. On 8 May the Baltic commanders visited the U.S. Central Command and the Coalition Coordination Center in Tampa, Florida.
* Baltic Agriculture Ministers Ants Noot (Estonia), Martins Roze (Latvia), and Jeronimas Kraujelis (Lithuania) discussed the EU Common Agriculture Policy in Vilnius on 7 May, BNS reported. Roze and Noot had come to Vilnius for the AgroBalt 2003 International Fair which opened the previous day.
* Environment Ministers Villu Reiljan (Estonia), Raimonds Vejonis (Latvia), and Arunas Kundrotas (Lithuania) held their annual meeting in Sigulda, Latvia, a town 60 kilometers northeast of Riga, on 8 May, BNS reported. They discussed their participation in the upcoming meeting of European environment ministers in Kyiv at the end of the month, as well as problems with EU membership and the further activities of the Baltic Environment Forum.
ESTONIAPRIME MINISTER PAYS FIRST FOREIGN VISIT.
Prime Minister Juhan Parts paid a working visit to Copenhagen on 5 May, during which he discussed the future of the European Union with his Danish counterpart Anders Fogh Rasmussen, BNS reported the next day. Rasmussen supported the view that the 10 EU candidate countries should have the same rights as current EU members of the EU Convention on the Future of Europe. The premiers also discussed the very good relations between Estonia and Denmark and said they expect to develop further bilateral relations following Estonia's accession to the EU. Parts invited Rasmussen to visit Estonia this fall. Shortly after becoming prime minister, Parts said Finland would be the first country he would visit, but he changed this in view of the planned visit to Tallinn by the new Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jaatteenmaki.
PARLIAMENT APPROVES SENDING TROOPS TO PERSIAN GULF
Parliament on 8 May approved by a vote of 69 to one, with three abstentions, to deploy as many as 55 soldiers for peacekeeping operations in the Persian Gulf region, BNS reported. The troops will serve in three separate missions. A 32-man light-infantry unit will guard facilities, probably to the north of Baghdad. An 11-member cargo-handling team will unload equipment in Kuwait and possibly also provide security during its transportation to Iraq. There will also be a three-man team of divers stationed in Bahrain to search for mines in the gulf. The deployments will be based on rotating six-month terms of service, but the resolution allows for troops to be in the region for one year. A six-month mission will cost about 20 million kroons ($1.4 million), some of which is expected to be compensated by the United States.
VISIT BY GREEK PRIME MINISTER.
Constantinos Simitis held talks on 6 May in Tallinn with his Estonian counterpart Juhan Parts, BNS reported. Greece currently holds the rotating EU Presidency and the visit by Simitis was part of his tour of the capitals of current and future EU states. The premiers discussed various issues, including the work of the EU Convention on the Future of Europe, illegal immigration, and the basic principles of European security and defense. Simitis also spoke in favor of extending the term of the EU Presidency from six months to a year. Simitis later on 6 May traveled to Riga, where in a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga he stressed the importance of ensuring the equality of small countries in the EU.
* Finnish Prime Minister Anneli Jaatteenmaki held talks with her Estonian counterpart Juhan Parts in Tallinn on 7 May, BNS reported. At a subsequent press conference they stressed the importance of cooperation in environmental protection in the Baltic Sea, especially in the Gulf of Finland. They called for a ban on single-hulled oil tankers in the Baltic Sea. The premiers underscored that their countries will not be rivals as members of the EU with Jaatteenmaki hinting that Finland might give up its efforts to have the headquarters of the EU information protection agency in Helsinki since Estonia is also interested in having the headquarters. Noting that Finland is also seeking to house the EU food agency, she said that both countries could each have one EU institution.
* President Arnold Ruutel made a state visit to Luxembourg on 5 to 7 May, BNS reported. He was accompanied by his wife Ingrid, Bank of Estonia President Vahur Kraft, a delegation of 20 businessmen, headed by Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Toomas Luman, and a press delegation. He was welcomed at a reception ceremony hosted by Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa who later gave a festive dinner in his honor. Ruutel also had meetings with Mayor of Luxembourg Paul Helminger, parliament President Jean Spautz, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, and Foreign Minister Lydie Polfer. Polfer explained that she will submit to the parliament the NATO accession treaty for ratification on 9 May and the EU accession treaty before the summer recess.
* Hundreds of mostly Russian speakers marked the anniversary of the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany by placing flowers at the main Soviet World War II monument in Tallinn, a bronze statue of a Red Army soldier, on 9 May, BNS reported. No veterans organization had requested permission to hold a commemoration and the police did not forbid it as it was a tradition dating back many years. The police only tried to stop the open use of alcohol.
* The parliament established a 12-member European Affairs Committee on 8 May whose main duty will be to maintain contacts with EU institutions and analyze the implications of the country's entry into the EU, BNS reported. The committee will have seven members from the ruling coalition: Eiki Berg, Jaanus Rahumagi, and Urmas Reinsalu from Res Publica, Rein Lang and Maret Maripuu from the Reform Party, and Janno Reiljan and Vello Tafenau from the People's Union. The five opposition members are: Peeter Kreitzberg, Siiri Oviir, and Liina Tonisson from the Center Party, Tunne Kelam from Pro Patria Union, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a member of the Moderate Party.
* People's Union Chairman and Environment Minister Reiljan wants to dismiss his ministry's Chancellor Sulev Vare who is a member of the Reform Party and replace him with his own advisor Mario Sootna, BNS reported on 6 May. He noted that Vare was appointed chancellor in April 1999 shortly after Reform Party member Heiki Kranich became Environment Minister. As Vare was a political appointment, it would be logical that Sootna who is also deputy chairman of the People's Union would be a suitable replacement.
* The parliament's Constitutional Committee decided on 5 May to oppose the bill proposed by the Pro Patria Union which would reinstate the requirement that candidates for the parliament and local councils had to take an oath that they had never been in the service of the KGB or other repressive bodies that occupied Estonia, BNS reported. The requirement, which expired on 31 December 2000, had been part of the Constitutional Implementation Act, which was adopted by a referendum and in the opinion of the committee cannot be reinforced by a lower-level act.
* Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher declared on 5 May that his ministry will begin drafting amendments to the Imprisonment Act and will toughen prison rules, which give criminals convicted of grave crimes short leaves, BNS reported. His statement was prompted by the news that convicted murderer, Juri Mosin, did not return to prison after being granted a week's leave. Mosin, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the murder of three people in 1997, had been allowed out of prison for good behavior.
* The Statistical Office announced on 5 May that in March the country's imports were valued at 7.69 billion kroons, exports at 5.15 billion kroons, resulting in a trade deficit of 2.54 billion kroons, BNS reported. This was significantly higher than the deficits of 2.31 billion kroons and 1.81 billion kroons in February and March 2002, respectively.
* The Statistical Office announced on 8 May that in April the consumer price index (CPI) declined by 0.2 percent compared to March, but was still 1.3 percent higher compared to April 2002, BNS reported. The price of goods fell by 0.1 percent in April as the 0.2 rise in food prices was more than offset by the 0.4 percent decline in non-food items. The prices of services fell by 0.3 percent during the month.
LATVIAPRESIDENT SAYS STUDENTS WILL BENEFIT FROM INTRODUCTION OF PRIMARY LANGUAGE IN SCHOOLS.
In an interview in the Russian-language newspaper "Vesti segodna" of 5 May, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga called on parents and teachers to avoid overdramatizing the situation regarding the education reform planned for 2004 that will make Latvian the official language of instruction in all Latvian schools, LETA reported. The measure is expected to primarily affect Russian-speaking students. She said the goal of the reforms is to guarantee that every child in Latvia, regardless of ethnicity, is fluent in Latvian upon graduating from school and thus has equal career opportunities. "The purpose of the reform is not to assimilate children of other nationalities," Vike-Freiberga said. "No one has ever forced national minorities in Latvia to give up their language, culture, or national heritage." She said the 1.5 years remaining until the main phase of the reform is implemented will provide enough time to prepare for the changes.
PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION TO ORGANIZE EU REFERENDUM.
The parliament adopted amendments to the constitution on 8 May dealing with Latvia's upcoming referendum on European Union accession, LETA reported. The amendments allow part of the government's mandate to be delegated to international institutions with "the goal of boosting democracy," give parliament the right to set the date of the referendum on EU membership and set the threshold for a valid referendum vote at one-half of the voters who participated in the last parliamentary elections plus one. For the referendum to pass, a majority of those participating (50-percent-plus-one) will need to vote "yes".
BORDER REQUIREMENT TO PROVE POSSESSION OF HEALTH, LIFE INSURANCE SUSPENDED.
The cabinet issued a directive on 6 May ordering the suspension of a new requirement that foreigners prove at the border that they possess valid health and life insurance before entering Latvia, BNS reported. The practice, implemented on 1 May as part of a new immigration law, attracted the attention of the government after the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry formally protested that Latvian border guards were refusing to recognize policies issued by Lithuanian insurance companies and were demanding that travelers take out insurance with Latvian companies. Prime Minister Einars Repse said the immigration law does not stipulate how the existence of such insurance policies should be checked, and that doing so is "irrational and impossible." The requirement does not apply to citizens of Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Ukraine, since Latvia has signed reciprocity agreements with these countries.
SOVIET WORLD WAR II VICTORY MARKED.
Continuing the Soviet tradition of celebrating Victory Day on 9 May to mark the end of World War II, some 5,000 people gathered at the Victory Monument in Riga, BNS reported. Prior to the celebrations, the ambassadors of Russia, Belarus, and Uzbekistan to Latvia placed flowers at the monument. Equal Rights leader Tatyana Zhdanoka, Socialist Party Chairman Alfreds Rubiks, and some veterans spoke to the crowd, which included many World War II veterans dressed in Soviet army uniforms as well as several classes from Russian-language schools, led by their teachers. The speakers noted the major contribution made by the Russian people to Latvia's liberation from Nazism and expressed opposition to Latvia's planned education reform that will make Latvian the language of instruction in all schools. Rubiks also condemned Latvia's support for U.S. actions against Iraq.
* Greek Prime Minister Constantinos Simitis visited Latvia on 6 and 7 May, BNS reported. He told President Vike-Freiberga on 6 May that Greece defends the equality of small countries within the EU and "we already perceive you as equally serious partners in negotiations." They discussed the planned EU-Russian talks in St. Petersburg in late May and the EU summit in Salonica on 20 June. Prime Minister Einars Repse told Simitis on 7 May that EU accession should not influence Latvia's good relations with the United States. The premiers agreed that the rotating presidency of the EU should be maintained, but the current six months is too short.
* Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks attended a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Brussels on 8 May which discussed a draft directive on the status and rights of third countries citizens and stateless persons in European countries, LETA reported the next day. One of the versions of the directive would give such citizens the right to employment and social assistance in any EU member country. Aksenoks noted that if this were accepted the current non-citizens and Russian citizens in Latvia would enjoy greater rights than the citizens of the 10 EU candidate countries, whom most EU countries will not allow to work in their territories for at least three years.
* Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins and Ukrainian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Vladimir Yelchenko chaired political consultations between officials of their ministries in Riga on 6 May, BNS reported. Such consultations have been conducted on a regular basis after the signing of a protocol of cooperation in February 1992. The Latvians mainly spoke about their experiences in integrating into NATO and the EU, but there also were discussions about bilateral relations and regional cooperation as well as an exchange of opinion about the latest developments in the EU, NATO, and the world.
* A delegation of parliament deputies from the Latvian-Italian parliamentary cooperation group held talks in Rome on 5 May with Italian parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gustavo Selva, LETA reported the next day. They expressed support for the position backed by 19 other EU member and candidate countries advocating a rotating presidency for the EU. Italy is one of the six EU countries wishing to end this practice. On 6 May the deputies met with Italian parliament deputies and representatives of the Italian Foreign Ministry.
* Minister of Regional Development and Local Government Affairs Ivars Gaters participated in the 19th session of the Governing Council of the United National Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) in Nairobi, Kenya on 5 to 9 May, LETA reported. The session was considered to be a good opportunity to present issues that concern housing and territorial development in Latvia and attract new cooperation partners at the cross-border level.
* In an interview on Latvian state radio on 6 May, President Vike-Freiberga said that a public protest against the plans to make Latvian the language of instruction in all schools from September should not be allowed in Riga on 23 May, the day before the finals of the international Eurovision song contest, BNS reported. The political parties Equal Rights, the Socialist Party, and National Harmony Party along with the NGOs, Latvia's Association for Support of Russian Schools and Latvia's Russian Community, are planning a mass procession through the streets of central Riga that day. The procession has not been sanctioned by Riga's municipal authorities. Vike-Freiberga said that a protest at that time "would not be wise for security reasons" as the police would have more work to cope with the greater numbers of foreign visitors.
* The parliament adopted a decision on 8 May to send two servicemen to participate in EU peacekeeping operations in Macedonia, LETA reported. The EU took over the operation "Allied Harmony" from NATO in January and has invited the 10 EU candidate countries to take part.
* After years of debate, the parliament adopted enabling legislation on 8 May that will allow construction to begin on a new National Library, to be located on the left bank of the Daugava River opposite Riga's Old Town, LETA reported. The new building, designed by noted Latvian-American architect Gunnar Birkerts, is to be completed by 18 November 2008.
* The government decided on 6 May that it should protect the domestic pork market by establishing import quotas for pork and pork offal as well as additional customs duties on live pigs, BNS reported. It suggested that imports above the quotas would be subject to an import duty of 0.25 lats ($0.42) per kilogram and the duty for live pigs would be 203 lats per ton. The measure still has to be approved by the parliament.
* During a joint breakfast with Prime Minister Einars Repse on 6 May, the member parties in the ruling coalition agreed that the parliament presidium and the council of parliamentary groups would meet soon to announce a date for presidential elections, LETA reported. The election in parliament is expected to take place in June, shortly before the midsummer holiday. President Vike-Freiberga's current term ends on 7 July. The coalition has expressed support for her reelection and no other candidates have been nominated.
* Zigvards Lukjanovics -- the Customs Service official whose report brought about the recent dismissal for dereliction of duty of State Income Service Customs Administration Director Kalvis Vitolins -- has himself been arrested on 8 May for allegedly demanding a $4,000 bribe for slashing an unnamed company's tax bill, LETA reported.
* Longtime Ventspils mayor Aivars Lembergs returned from what he termed a successful trip to the United States, "Lauku avize" reported on 6 May. Lembergs said he discussed the possibility of U.S. investment in Ventspils, involvement by the port of Ventspils in Iraqi reconstruction programs and the ongoing crisis involving oil shipments through the port. According to Lembergs, he met with White House, State Department, and Energy Department officials as well as representatives of a "company with billions in turnover" that he refused to name.
* The cabinet decided on 5 May that Economy Minister Juris Lujans would inform the Korean company "LG International Corp.," which offered in February to invest several hundreds of millions of lats to build an oil refinery in Ventspils, that Latvia was interested in the project but would not grant any specific guarantees, LETA reported. It noted that the amount of information about the project was inadequate and the Latvian Development Agency should engage in further negotiations.
* The state electricity utility Latvenergo signed an agreement on 8 May for a five-year syndicated loan of 21 million lats ($36 million) with a bank syndicate led by Latvia's Parex Bank, BNS reported. Other banks in the agreement are from Ireland, Germany, and Sweden. The loan will be used to secure Latvenergo's investment program totaling 74.6 million lats, which includes payment of previous contracts, the renewal of sub-stations and damaged power lines, and the funding of supply contracts and the overhaul of the Riga TEC-1 combined heat and power plant.
* The Latvian National Statistics Office announced on 8 May that in April the consumer price index (CPI) grew by 0.3 percent compared to March and by 2.5 percent compared to April 2002, BNS reported. In April the price of both goods and services increased by 0.3 percent. The costs of some products such as cheese and eggs became more expensive, but others such as meat, sugar, and vegetables declined. Clothing and footwear became 3 percent more expensive, but fuel prices fell by 1.3 percent.
* President Vike-Freiberga presented credentials on 5 May to new Latvian Ambassador to the Vatican Alberts Sarkanis, BNS reported. Sarkanis, currently the Foreign Ministry's inspector general, replaces Aija Odina, who became Ambassador to Spain. Sarkanis earlier served as Latvia's Ambassador to Lithuania and Finland.
LITHUANIASOCIAL DEMOCRATS HOLD CONGRESS.
The 26th Congress of the Social Democratic Party (LSDP) was held in Vilnius on 3 May, BNS reported. The 501 delegates reelected Brazauskas as party chairman for two more years, with only two no-votes and two abstentions. Three other candidates were nominated but declined to run. The congress reduced the number of deputy chairmen from 12 to seven: Ceslovas Jursenas, Vytenis Andriukaitis, Irena Siauliene, Algirdas Butkevicius, Gediminas Kirkilas, Milda Petrauskiene, and Lione Pikeliene. It failed to reelect as a deputy chairman former Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis, who was nominated by Brazauskas. Bernatonis recently resigned following a public scandal. New Union (Social Liberals) Chairman Arturas Paulauskas expressed support for uniting his party with the LSDP, but cautioned that this should be done gradually and be a union of equal partners. The congress also passed a resolution urging people to vote "yes" in the upcoming referendum on EU membership.
SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER SAYS EU WILL LISTEN TO LITHUANIAN PROPOSALS.
Gorran Persson held meetings with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, and President Rolandas Paksas during a brief visit to Vilnius on 6 May, BNS reported. The premiers stressed the need for greater cooperation among the Baltic and Nordic countries, saying that the small countries in the EU can accomplish more if they work together. Persson said Lithuania's voice in the EU will be heard if it presents constructive and well-grounded proposals. He said it would be a tragedy if Lithuania failed to approve EU membership in its upcoming referendum, as enlargement is needed both for current EU members and for those slated for accession. Persson also said Lithuania could play a key role in the EU's "New Neighbors" initiative in relation to Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova.
COUNCIL OF NATIONAL COMMUNITIES SUPPORTS EU MEMBERSHIP.
The Council of National Communities, representing some 20 nationalities living in Lithuania, issued a statement on 5 May urging the people to vote "yes" in the country's EU-membership referendum on 10-11 May, BNS reported. The statement said Lithuanian EU membership would secure possibilities for all residents to preserve their national identities and cherish their cultures, as EU member states have proven their success finding ways to "curb national egoism, secure political stability, and protect human rights." The Central Election Commission announced that the number of eligible voters is slightly more than 2.6 million, or some 100,000 fewer than in the presidential elections in January. President Rolandas Paksas on 2 May vetoed a bill that would have allowed the removal from the list of some 200,000 people who unofficially traveled abroad, ELTA reported. Although polls indicate that almost two-thirds of the population support EU membership, some fear that voter turnout might be less than the 50 percent-plus-one-vote needed to validate the referendum.
* Greek Prime Minister Constantinos Simitis completed a tour of the Baltic states with a one-day visit to Vilnius on 7 May, BNS reported. In talks with his Lithuanian counterpart Brazaukas, he praised the country's decision to seek EU membership as this will provide economic benefits, encourage needed reforms, and help greater integration into the international community. The premiers also discussed the upcoming EU summit in Salonica, the EU Convention on the Future of Europe, and the situation in Iraq and the Balkans. Brazauskas as Social Democratic Party Chairman and Simitis as head of the Greek Socialist Movement also signed a memorandum on inter-party cooperation.
* Foreign Ministry Economy Department head Romas Svedas said on 5 May that the recent report of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) continued to place Lithuania on its watch list and not the priority watch list thus avoiding possible trade sanctions, ELTA reported. He noted that this showed the success of various ministries to counter efforts by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), an organization of six American copyright associations, to place Lithuania on the priority watch list over allegedly high piracy levels and the weak enforcement of anti-piracy laws by national authorities in 2002. The USTR report noted that the most persistent problem in Lithuania regarding copyright is a lack of adequate and effective enforcement, which undermines the laws passed in recent years.
* Using funding and training from Canada, the Jonusas Radvila training regiment is hosting the international peacekeeping exercise Maple Arch-2003 at Rukla with soldiers from Poland and Ukraine. The exercises are noteworthy for several reasons. The Maple Arch exercises, which had been held in Poland every year since 1999, are being held for the first time in Lithuania and it is also the first time that Ukrainian troops are participating in military exercises in Lithuania after the restoration of independence. The ban on troops from CIS countries being in Lithuania was abolished by the parliament last January. The troops from Poland and Ukraine arrived in Rukla on 6 May and the exercises were opened the next day, BNS reported. The exercises are focusing on training personnel not only in peacekeeping but also in civilian-military co-operation, NATO activity planning relating procedures, humanitarian operations, media handling, and relations with the public. Maple Arch -2003 is scheduled to end on 17 May.
* The German delegation to the AgroBalt 2003 International Fair, led by German Federal Consumer Rights Protection, Food and Agriculture Ministry Secretary Gerald Thalheim arrived in Vilnius on 5 May, a day before the fair's opening, ELTA reported. Agriculture Minister Kraujelis met with the delegation and noted that Lithuanian farmers were very thankful for the technical and financial assistance that Germany had provided in the past. Thalheim stressed that as Lithuania is joining the EU, its farmers will need to focus on the modernization of their farms and preparing competitive products.
* Gazprom Deputy Board Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov told the press after a meeting with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas in Vilnius on 6 May that the company was planning to raise its offer for a 34 percent share in the state gas company Lietuvos Dujos, BNS reported. This was based on the company earning 50 million litas ($16.2 million) in the first quarter of the year. Ryazanov said that a new offer would be made in two or three weeks. Brazauskas noted that the earlier offer of 80 million litas was too low as a similar share had been sold last year to the German consortium of Ruhrgas and E.ON Energie for 116 million litas.
* The Russian Court of Arbitration on 7 May rejected a claim for damages filed by the Russian State Reserve against Kaliningrad Delicatessen, a meat production company set up in the Kaliningrad region by the Lithuanian company Vilke, BNS reported. In 2001, Kaliningrad Delicatessen produced and delivered a million cans of meat to the Russian State Reserve, but the latter complained that the products did not comply with the standards agreed in the contract and demanded enormous damages which would have bankrupted the company. Kaliningrad Delicatessen, however, had certificates from an independent laboratory proving that the canned meat products complied with the standards.
* The State Veterinary Service imposed a ban on the import of all animals and animal product products from China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam from 8 May, BNS reported. The ban was prompted by fears over the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus. The service said that Lithuania had imported a total of 318 tons of food products from South Asia since the start of this year, mostly fish products.
* At a meeting with Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius on 9 May, President Paksas decided to hold a meeting of the State Defense Council to discuss and form a position on the participation of troops in peacekeeping operations in Iraq, BNS reported. Linkevicius noted that both Denmark and Poland had invited Lithuania to join their operations in Iraq and it was possible that both requests might be fulfilled. The parliament will still have to approve the sending of the troops.
* The Statistics Department announced on 9 May that in the first quarter of the year total imports were valued at 6.7 billion litas and exports at 5.46 billion litas, resulting in a deficit of 1.23 billion litas, BNS reported. Compared to the same period last year, imports and exports were, respectively, 9.5 percent and 25.9 percent higher, but the deficit was 30.5 percent lower. The major destinations of exports were Switzerland (14.9 percent), Germany (10 percent), Russia (9.5 percent), and Latvia (9.3 percent), while imports came from Russia (28.4 percent), Germany (14.6 percent), and Poland (4.5 percent).
* The Statistics Department announced on 9 May that the consumer price index in April remained unchanged compared to March and was 1.0 percent lower than in April 2002, BNS reported. The price of food products and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 0.2 percent, but there was a 2.6 percent decline in gasoline prices.
* The international ratings agency Standard & Poor's raised the long-term credit rating of the city of Vilnius from BBB- to BBB with an outlook of stable on 8 May, BNS reported. It justified the decision by noting the general improvement in the economic environment in Lithuania with Vilnius accounting for about 30 percent of the country's GDP. The city is the focal point for foreign business activity in Lithuania and has a diversified, service-driven economy. Its debt of 32 percent of the city's operating revenues in 2002 is also low by international standards.